Media Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Ontario law promises to protect northern Boreal Forest

Role of communities needs to be front and centre in new law, coalition says

TORONTO - A coalition of leading environmental groups applauds legislation to be introduced today that would enshrine Premier Dalton McGuinty's commitment to protect at least 225,000 square kilometres of the northern boreal forest. The Far North Planning and Protection Act, if passed, could help Ontario fight climate change, protect ecosystems and ensure First Nations have control over land-use decisions as they plan for cultural renewal and future economic prosperity.

The draft legislation promises to enshrine commitments made last year by Premier McGuinty to protect the boreal forest and improve relationships with Aboriginal people. The coalition notes that for the first time in Ontario history, legislation will ensure that First Nations will lead planning for their traditional territories. It also looks forward to a legislative commitment to create a new body to aid implementation and coordination of planning.

"The Premier has made good on his promise to the planet, and has set in motion a plan to protect more than 50 billion tonnes of carbon," says Janet Sumner of CPAWS Wildlands League. "The success of this initiative depends on new investment in First Nations as they plan for prosperity, culture and ecosystems," Sumner adds.

"World class values deserve world class legislation," says Justin Duncan of Ecojustice. "This draft has the right ingredients and we look forward to working with others to perfect it."

The Coalition has set out five benchmarks to judge the quality of the new legislation:

  1. Clear statement of ecological planning goals and objectives to guide selection of conservation lands
  2. Establishment of community planning bodies to lead development and approve land-use plans
  3. Equal representation of Aboriginal people on a regional coordinating and implementation body
  4. Adequate funding for community planning bodies to conduct their work
  5. Establishment of science advisory body to meet the purposes of the legislation

"We expect that the proposed legislation will meet most of these tests for good legislation for the northern boreal," says Rick Smith of Environmental Defence. "More work needs to be done to fully ensure the legislation will work in the real world, but we are confident this will be done during the Committee hearing process this summer."

Dedicated funding to support community planning is a particular concern to the Coalition. In the absence of money for developing plans proactively, there is a risk that the process may default to planning only in response to proposed developments.

"Plans that protect culture, landscapes and species need to be done now, and not just when somebody wants to build a mine, hydro dam or transmission line," says Catharine Grant of ForestEthics.

The role of a regional planning body needs to be clearly defined in the legislation as well, including the way in which it will involve aboriginal people.

"The promise of protection needs to become real through this legislation. This law could set a standard for conservation that other provinces will feel compelled to match," says Caroline Schultz of Ontario Nature. "Getting it right means the difference between development that is sustainable and development that will eventually destroy an irreplaceable region."

Three member groups of the Coalition were represented on the Minister of Natural Resources' Far North Advisory Council. They are pleased to see that many elements of the Council's consensus report are reflected in the draft legislation.

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For more information please visit www.borealopportunity.ca and contact:

Janet Sumner, CPAWS-Wildlands League, 416 971 9453 ext. 39
Justin Duncan, Ecojustice, (416) 368 7533
Rick Smith, Environmental Defence, (416) 670-9521
Catharine Grant, ForestEthics, (416) 527-2284
Caroline Schultz, Ontario Nature, (416) 768-9795

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